P.O.P.S. Club Returns to School


Paulina Asauluke, Reporter

After a year of distance learning, the Venice High-born club P.O.P.S. will return to campus tomorrow. 

P.O.P.S., which stands for Pain of the Prison System, is a club designed to provide support for students who have been impacted by prison, jail, detention, and deportation. According to Amy Friedman, the co-founder of P.O.P.S., the club is a safe and nurturing space for anyone who is impacted in any way by incarceration. 

The club will meet every Wednesday during lunch in the school garden. P.O.P.S. offers food to everyone who attends, with this year’s lunch provided by Great White, a cafe in Venice. 

According to the founders, P.O.P.S. is a place where everyone is safe to share their story. The club emphasizes understanding and acceptance of one another. 

Students are encouraged to express themselves through various forms of art including writing, photography, and painting. Each year, P.O.P.S. publishes an anthology featuring the work of the students who participate in the club. 

The first anthology, Runaway Thoughts, was published in 2014 and won an award. This success led to the publication of the next six volumes and the launch of P.O.P.S.’ publishing company, Out of the Woods Press. The 8th volume, titled Dear Friends, will be published in April 2022. 

P.O.P.S. was founded in 2013 by Friedman and her husband, then Venice High English teacher Dennis Danziger. Their goal was to lift the stigma that too often is associated with people who have a connection to incarceration. 

“It was that first cohort of 25 kids at Venice who joined the club who ultimately chose the name P.O.P.S. to reflect both the Pain of the Prison System, because there is much pain,and also to reflect the energy and joy in the room at club meetings, the pop!” Friedman said.

Friedman described the first ever P.O.P.S. meeting as “magical.”  

From Day One, Danziger has drawn inspiration from the many brave students who have participated in the club.  

“P.O.P.S. inspired me to keep teaching and to push my retirement back several years because I loved working with the students in the club and the graduates who keep returning,” he said. 

Now retired, Danziger still volunteers for P.O.P.S. at Venice High. 

“I knew I had to come back,” he said. “The students’ stories, their wisdom, their humor, their strength, their honesty, their kindness and courage, they all inspire me.”

According to a study by the research firm Child Trends, In the United States, 1 in 14 children has a parent who is or has been incarcerated. Parental incarceration is classified as particularly stigmatizing Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), but one that is rarely investigated. It is even more rare that these children are provided adequate support. The goal of P.O.P.S. is to change that, and have a positive impact on the lives of those children. 

Amy Friedman explained why P.O.P.S. plays an important role in supporting children who grew up coping with the stigma of incarceration. 

“It’s important for schools to provide support because it is critical to lift the stigma and shame and to celebrate and honor the voices of these youth who are so often hiding their experiences,” she said. “Carrying around a secret weighs a person down and inhibits open and honest relationships with others, making focusing and connecting difficult.”

Friedman was previously married to a man who was incarcerated. Working as a newspaper columnist, she was writing a series of columns on prisons, and that is where she met the man she married.

She raised his two daughters and witnessed the way they were hurt by the shame they felt as a result of their father’s incarceration.

Friedman’s first-hand experience helps her understand the struggles of every student who comes to P.O.P.S. seeking support. 

“When my stepdaughters were very young, their father was arrested, and many of their friends, community members and teachers shunned them,” she said. “That experience taught them to lie, to hide their true experiences from everyone, and hiding and lying became their path. That led to mental and physical illness, to school dropout, to difficulty forming relationships, and many other challenges.” 

The challenges that her stepdaughters faced growing up are shared by millions of children across the United States. According to Friedman, P.O.P.S. is the kind of support system that her stepdaughters needed and can make a difference in the lives and the futures of those children. 

“I know if they had felt supported and understood in school, their entire life’s path would have been healthier and happier,” she said. “And I’ve seen that support create opportunities for hundreds of people since P.O.P.S. was founded just 8 years ago. It is changing lives.”

P.O.P.S. became a nonprofit organization in 2014 and now supports clubs in 17 schools in five states—California, New York, Georgia, Alaska, and Pennsylvania, and coming in early 2022 will be in Portland, Oregon as well. Each P.O.P.S. club is led by one or more teacher sponsors. 

Venice High’s sponsor is history teacher Drake Witham.